Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

All Hail Mable

August 26th, 2014

mableSRBShe spelled her name Mable or Mabel on her caprice. No matter, my maternal grandmother was a hell of a baker.

Come to write that, I don’t believe I ever heard her use hell or damn, much  less the vulgarian terms we hear on TV or even from tots today. Still, she was well known in the little mountain town in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia for her pies, cobblers and particularly her breads.

Come a summer hot spell, as we have now in Boston, the visceral mnemonic, as relentless and insistent as Proust’s madeleine, differs among us. Some see themselves as lizards, warming their blood in the sun. Others hie and hide in bars with loud companions and cold drinks. It’s the beach or porch person to person.

To me, it’s Mable’s salt-rising bread.The misnamed loaf really requires sun and heat, 90° or so to make the starter, then raise the dough and loaves in two sessions of a two to three-day process. In my many summers in Romney, I knew what was up when I saw the jar with the starter, then the huge bowl covered with a towel on the back lawn.

For the misnomer, the bread has very little sat and the salt has nothing of moment to do with its rising. You might call it potato-rising bread or perhaps just another form of pain au levain. Its yeast comes from what’s in the air, a pinch of baking soda, the potato starch and just a little sugar as a catalyst.

It is a wonder and a delight — once you transcend the aroma of the starter and the baking bread. Mable’s recipe is from one of her handwritten cards in her yellow index-card recipe box. It starts “At noon, slice 2 potatoes into a jar…” and continues with understood steps (for example, she writes “make loaves” but doesn’t bother with the obvious grease loaf pans and coat with corn meal, which you should know), and inexact quantities (such as “fat the size of an egg). After all, her notes were for herself.

Regardless, I had my own issues with martinet Mable who was co-host to my sister and me for summers into our high-school years, along with Granddad, her husband. I never quibbled with her baking and loved seeing the big bowl on the lawn.

The yeast concoction produces a froth with what her recipe writes is “a peculiar odor.” It continues that after you’ve prepared the potato starter and waited for a day, “If it doesn’t have the foam and odor do not use it.”

The peculiar odor indicated what makes the yeast from next to nothing and what produces the splendid taste, particularly when sliced very thinly and toasted. The taste is intense and unique. Mable revisits whenever the hot days inspire me to open the yellow box.

 

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

Mummifying Christmas packages

December 23rd, 2013

Among changes and missing items now our parents are dead are:

  • The sacred cookie rites moved from my mother to my sister
  • We no longer get packages encapsulated, neigh smothered, in tape

2cookies

My mother made superb Scottish shortbread and remarkable bourbon balls. Until her end, she would send us tins of each. The cookie baton immediately passed to my sister. She’s even been tweaking the bourbon ball’s recipe (like Wild Turkey 101 this year) and seems to have improved on it.

For the other, what the devil cultural phenomenon made the WWII generation tape wacky? Many boomers say their parents did the same. Packages large or small, no matter how sturdy the box, no matter who handled the shipment were smothered in tape, sometimes several varieties of clear and opaque, formal packing tape, duct tape, Scotch tape, masking tape…

Oddly their parents did not do this. We don’t do it. Our kids don’t. This fetish is like a secret handshake of what’s let’s call in this instance the Goofiest Generation.

When parcels arrived from any of our parents, we knew to get out the knives. I tended to use my big French chef’s knife. I knew that the carbon steel blade I kept sharp could puncture and cut open the worst they had done. It was precise enough not to slice into presents captured inside.

When I would ask my mother about the tape extravaganza, she’d say she just wanted to make sure everything got there, as though the box might disintegrate in the  delivery truck.That our more relaxed packages arrived whole made no impression on this otherwise extremely rational person.

It was a small, amusing foible, made more remarkable by its widespread, generation-specific nature. I don’t miss it.

 

Mensa Muffins

October 27th, 2013

bcbskedsYesterday at BarCamp Boston, geeks abounded and were super pleasant. For those who haven’t worked in high tech, that is remarkable. Many programmers and others sheltered under the very wide engineer umbrella show off and show each other up.

When I went from tech writer and doc manager to overseeing development and QA engineers,  I experienced that in its spark and spit. Very smart young men and women in software development had to be best. “His code is crap. Mine is much better.” “Her malloc clogs the stack.” “I can write that in 121 fewer lines and mine will run much faster.”

I didn’t see that competitiveness or criticism yesterday. That is except for the brief you’re-doing-in-wrong-and-inefficiently moments. As such, they were left-brain amusing.

Take the sked board. It’s a running BarCamp joke that this is a manual operation, much like the beloved whiteboards in daily use. Each of the two days’ sessions gets a Post-it stuck to its time/location spot in the grid. In deference to modern life, the grid also goes online and nearly every attendant had and used one or more wireless devices.

Several hundred folk waited for those who wanted to give sessions to put their topic on a Post-It, get enough checkmarks showing interest to justify moving it to the sked grid. Their minds clearly were spinning, because as a couple of volunteers climbed on tables to draw precise chalk lines for the grid, the suggestions started.

First, the main woman using a cardboard template to guide the chalk was, as you’d expect, precise…a.k.a. slow. Her lines had to be this level and just so. People standing around waiting to see what they wanted to go to at 11am whispered suggestions for how to create the grid more efficiently. Then they called out their ideas.

stevemuffins

Meanwhile, more self-perceived wisdom occurred at the breakfast tables. Videoblog overlord, Steve Garfield got his version and I saw a truly efficient geek handle the coffee when it arrived.

Steve wasn’t a volunteer, at least when he arrived. He did see the many shrink-wrapped trays of muffins, croissants and such. He went to take the plastic off only to hear the guy sort of watching them announce that he couldn’t. The claim was the no one could have muffins until the vats of coffee arrived. To the sentry, pastries require pastry and that’s that.

Steve asked who was in charge and headed for them. They told him sure, get the muffins ready. Steve had figured all along that not everyone had to have coffee with their pastry.

He used his low-tech tool, his car key, to cut the plastic. Meanwhile, his mother saw a pic of the muffins and wisely informed Steve the muffins were too big, that he should halve them. So he got a plastic knife and did that. There were a lot of muffins.

The coffee arrived, three gigantic vats with spigots, and a bunch of boxes with pour spouts. Almost immediately, a long, single line formed and moved very slowly.

The engineering mind of a few geeks next to me went to work. The first observation was that the gate was at the milk. The half or so of those getting coffee really wanted hot ice cream and fixed their coffee with both milk and sugar, a slow process.

Then one 20-something acted. He could have rearranged the add-ins beyond the vats and sped up the process. Instead, he handled it much better by grabbing a box of coffee and a stack of paper cups. Calling out, “Who wants black coffee?” he went down the line. About half of those did, got a quick pour and the long line became a very short one in about two minutes.

At least two smart guys worked for the common good.

JP’s Annual Day Party

September 7th, 2013

It’s no Lowell Folk Festival, but the Jamaica Plain Music Festival is a quarter to a third a good, jammed into much time, not requiring hustling among six venues, and for us very parochial Bostonians, does not make us travel out of town.

[By the bye, you have truly missed it of you haven't done the LFF. We've been there almost every year since it was the American Folk Festival. It's annual for two and one-half days, blues/folk/world/more...and free, free, free.]

While only in its fourth year the JP thingummy stays pleasing to the eye and ear, and with its hipster vendors — designer cupcakes, God’s doughnuts, Indian, New Age fruit pops, food-truck sammies — for the nose and mouth. We did it again. Here’s some snaps and comments on about a third of the bands and a few of the spectators.

Look at me! Look at me!

If you go next year and haven’t been and haven’t lived or spent a lot of time in JP (I lived there 21 years), steel yourself. Many of the locals are full of themselves, but not in an aggressive and obnoxious way. They are more vain and egotistical. They know they are hip.

weehipMany men and children and a few women wear Trilby-style hats, often in straw instead of felt. They may even dress their tots in them.

Having raised three, I know how much fun it is to dress up kids before they can object. That surprises all of us ex-boys who didn’t grow up with dolls.

Today, as always, there were a couple of hacky-sack guys. Late teen or early 20-something hipster types near the stage for everyone to revel in their splendid skills, sexiness and such. They are terrifically silly but have no idea they are. They go shirtless and foot the toy up, around and laterally for an hour or more, give each of us lesser mortals the pleasure of watching their posturing and posing. Yawn.

JPplank3This JPMF had an extra though. A couple was in the middle of the Pine Bank fields, again so everyone could benefit from watching them, for two hours or more doing acrobat, yogic stuff.

There may have been some Tantric connotations, as the guy stayed on his back with his arms and legs supporting the woman. She’d plank and twist and twirl and do a handstand on him. They were slow and far from flawless, but insistent.

They didn’t watch us, but knew we were watching them. For God’s sake, they were literally in the middle of the field, being exhibitionists.

They went on and on and on and on.

Far less visually intrusive were various promenader types. It still is summer, sunny and warm, so the déshabillé young women were common, in all senses, and benign enough. In their Danskin or similar tops, they showed themselves off to all genders, ages and orientations. No foul there.

In an unfortunate variation, a few badly aging men joined the hacky-sack types but after their shirtless prime. For example, one I recognize from the West Roxbury Y weight room is 45 or so. He must believe he is still 17 and prime. Instead, he wore only shorts and shoes and showed his fairly muscular arms, his big, honking beer gut, his very shiny scalp, and his pale blue tats. Some chum should let him know he’s a chubby, wrinkled baldy who should dress for public display. Sigh.

A far better display came from several hundred dragonflies. The fields are normally for soccer or softball. Today, the dragonflies were chowing down on the likes of gnats and mosquitoes. Some spectators didn’t seem to notice, but many from toddlers to blue hairs gawked. When we arrived just as things started noonish, the dinosaur-era critters far outnumbered the audience. Even as the fields filled with maybe 400 folk, the dragonflies kept relentlessly eating the pests. Bless ‘em. I only regret that they flitted nonstop, did not land, and moved so fast I couldn’t get a single shot of them.

The Musicians

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Allison Francis was early up and a good example of the occasional solo performer. She is a politically solid local who is a Midway regular. She was fun but not a great singer. allisonfrancis
AfroDshunguclose Probably the hit of the afternoon was Afro D All Starz, a big group with driving hip hop and funk. The head dude (emcee, leader, trumpet and vocals), Pete Shungu.
Christopher Huang was violinist and per song fiddler. AfroDHuang
AfroDFriedman Adam Friedman played flute.
Steve Mossberg bend over the keyboards. AfroDMossberg
AfroDshungu Shungu alternated trumpet and voice duties.
I think this blissed out guitarist is Reid Angwin. AfroDDavenny
Foxfuries A deceptively fun group was What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? (named for a Brit kids’ game). The backing vocals were from five women, collectively the Furies.
Lead is 3rian (sic) King. FoxKing
FoxCohen3 Nathan Cohen was on fiddle.
Another equivalent of a big band was Hobo Chili. There were a bunch of them, replete with brass, strings and voice. Leader Steve sang and trumpeted.  HoboSteve
 HoboDougorAndrew  I’m not sure whether it was Andrew or Doug on guitar.
 Lance on trumpet and Geoffrey on tenor.  HoboGeoffreyLance
 Library Prize for name did not go to Mr. Fox. Rather The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library got the thematic drama queen/costume non-award.
 The eponymous leader was definitely the least librarian-esque of the bunch.  LibraryEpstein
 Librarysing The sexy-librarian conceit worked well for the women band members. Their lyrics put the lie to the sweet melodies. Civil Engineering Blues was my favorite, a riff on Seinfeld’s yadda yadda, with lines like, “and nothing they do will solve any of this
so they may as well just smile
and they may talk a lot, but it’s la la la”

 

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Soft Opening, Solid Thrill

June 5th, 2013

grillebarFive of us at one table and two at another were among the fairly joyous Hyde Park sorts who noticed the Fairmount Grille’s Facebook announcement of a soft opening last evening. Only a banner hung outside the 81 Fairmount Ave site in Logan Square called passersby not to pass by.

As someone who really liked the previous Townsend’s in that spot for its four years, I’ve been figuratively pacing. Townsend’s shut last winter, but the owners passively obstructed the transition. For some reason, they held liquor license, which of course is essential for a bar/restaurant. The arcane, anachronistic Boston licensing does not allow even nominally for two licenses to be affiliated with one address. So the old license had to be revoked before another one could apply.

Perhaps more parochial and old-fashioned, there really aren’t enough liquor licenses to go around. Trot to any other sizable city and see that they are not afraid that something awful just might happen if there are two bars in a block. Bacchanals nightly! Anti-Puritan indulgence!

Regardless, with the Clarke’s in South Station becoming yet another drug store, that license migrated as Townsend’s went back into the treasure chest.

It seems Christopher Rassias got the restaurant and booze licenses and set up shop. He’d worked for numerous other such joints in town, mostly with Glynn Hospitality (Black Rose, Purple Shamrock and more). He told me last evening he was really ready to start his own.

Timing is superb. The popular The Hyde a little over a block away closed suddenly two weeks ago. The owner supposed retreated to Maine. Compounded with Townsend’s closing, that left a considerable hole in Logan Square. Rincon is across the street from the Hyde. Its limited Caribbean menu is good (particularly its goat stews), but it doesn’t have a full bar and seems to thrive with its DJ/dancing nights and its lunches. Around the corner on River Street, Master McGrath’s is a formidable, drink-all-day beer joint that sells a little bar food, and El Rancho has OK West Indies fare.  A little farther on Maple, Las Vegas Seafood (eh?) has good Haitian food, but is really a take-out joint.

fgrille

Logan and Cleary Squares didn’t have a good sit-down with booze…you know, a place with adult choices.

Same and different

So, The Fairmount Grille is likely to get business from the Townsend’s loyalists. The food is similar, priced about the same. The wine and beer selections are also reasonable in variety and cost. It was super to see the bar (in the same location) with stools shined again by singles and couples sliding into place.

All of that written, the soft opening had its predictable glitches. Moreover, some details are still unattended to by Rassias and his minions.

Perhaps most obvious, in addition to no marquee or sign visible driving on Fairmount Ave., the web presence really isn’t present. The Facebook page is OK. However, it doesn’t have enough info. The restaurant website it displays is not only incorrect (thefairmountgrille.com instead of fairmountgrille.com), but the real site is not active. You can’t see the menus and anything else. Rassais told a customer yesterday within my hearing that would be fixed real soon.

At our table we ordered a cocktail, some wines by the glass, a soda, and an ale. We had an appetizer touchstone for Boston eateries, fried calimari, and the house burger, fish and chips, Cobb salad, and stuffed poblanos. Our chums at the other table tried duck wings, a steak and something I’m blanking on with a couple of beers.

Everyone liked the food. I think the winner was Sara with the vegetarian poblanos. They were big, just spicy enough and not cooked to mushiness as so many restaurants pre-prepare them. Objections were real but minor. For example, those who put the house butter on the excellent (Fornax?) bread didn’t care for the stuff with some kind of sugar or homey mixed in unrequested. Also, Tallon spoiled customers with his great, regularly changing range of mussel dishes. For those of us who like such, that was a big selling point, but not represented here.

Beers were in the $5 to $7 range. They weren’t as varied as Townsend’s, where Michael Tallon took great pride in a large number of superb ales on tap.  Still, there were nothing beers like Bud, augmented by a dozen or so good ales and beers, with malty, hoppy and Belgian sorts to satisfy almost anyone with dinner. It was not a selection for a road trip to taste.

Wines by the glass were similar. Reasonably priced at $7 to $11, No one was going to feel ripped off. The selection of 8 or 10 whites and reds each had a range for most tastes. They didn’t have everything in stock yet. On a clumsy sidenote, I knocked over a glass shortly after the waiter arrived. He brought us cloths to clean up my spill but still charged for the replacement. It was my boner, but a savvy restaurant would not have charged, particularly with new customers.

At the end, one of our party wanted to split the bill and pay her part with her credit card. The staff and even the cash register troubleshooter who apparently wanted to be there for the first night could not make it work. A few minutes headed to a half hour, even with a couple of my visits to the register hallway. They didn’t get it working and eventually, I had them put everything on my card.

We also peeked as several other customers to see what shape the small back patio was in, as it was popular in its Townsend’s life. As my wife put it, right now it looks like the inside of our garage, with coiled hoses and such cluttering the space.

We’ll go back and look forward to trying their brunches when they get that together. Rassais seems open to comments and criticisms. I’ll see if I can get some more, better ales, for example. He seems already to know he has to get someone to give him a web presence.

Train Rant

One more notable aspect of the Logan and Cleary Square biz life. The inane MBTA zoning lets locals travel to West Medford or Malden or Chelsea for the subway fare ($2 with a Charlie Card). Down here, but in Boston city limits instead, the fare is $5.50 for Hyde Park, Readville and Fairmount. The Indigo Line proposal requests dropping the zone from 1 to 1A to put it at those suburban rates. That would definitely encourage business traffic, including to local restaurants.

Get your act together, MBTA. Let logic rule here!

Drown the damned salad!

May 5th, 2013

cainssignAs a boomer, I grew up with the excesses of the amusingly epithet-ascribed greatest generation. Those carried along by the tides and storms of WWII indulged themselves from the moment they declared victory. We kiddies got to share in their leavings.

As a group, my parents’ generation rewarded themselves non-stop. Sure, that meant too much booze and a level of adultery not known since the most profligate of ancient periods. To this day, they feel and think they deserve every indulgence.

With that comes the irony of calling my generation and the next several The Me Generation, The Entitlement Generation and other denigrations. We who studied history, sociology and similar soft sciences know those slurs were first applied to the WWII and Korean “police action” sorts.

Regardless, the mythology was and remains powerful. All hail, summa cum laude, the Greatest Generation!

One small piece trace of that legacy is salads.

Yes, boomers grew up with the formerly deprived slathering dressings on. Sure, it was the Greatests’ parents and grandparents who had to make the family work and survive during the Great Depression and WWII. Sure, it was the WWII folk who walked into battle (or were the men and women behind the desks and safe in the defense plants) who risked bullets or paper cuts after their elders had shepherded them through the national economic horrors.

Having landed firmly after V-E and V-J Days, the WWII crew knew it was party time. Among the obvious delights were the self-indulgence of food.

We boomers recalled the weekly visitations of the women’s service mags — McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and others. In most middle-class, white families that really meant one big thing. As surely as the WWI generation grabbed their Reader’s Digest monthly to find out what disease they had to fear this time, the competitive housewives made sure they were up on the latest recipes.

That was a simpler version of today’s foodie snobbery. Now it’s obscure ingredients and must-have food prep gear. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was being sure you were the first, or at least not the last, to serve the pop dishes.

Dreadful they were, but adequate in nutrition, if short on sapidity and devoid of presentation value. It meant, by God!, another tuna noodle casserole variation. It was those dreadful, salt-filled, mouth drying burgers baked in foil with cream of mushroom (always Campbell’s) and dried onion soup mix (always Lipton’s). Accompanying the leaden entrée was some cloyingly sweet mess with colors that do not naturally occur, think an orange Jell-O mold with pineapple junks and mini-marshmallows.

Then both at home and particularly in restaurants, the iceberg lettuce salads were totally dominated by four or five times too much sugary, fatty dressing. A typical dinner table at home or out included two, three or more bottles of gum-thickened, sugar filled mayonnaise disguised as condiment. The very antithesis of light, savory vinaigrette, those clots of extremism marked the WWII generation as surely as did the second and third pre-dinner cocktail.

I thought of those days a decade or more later when working one of my summer college jobs at Cain’s Foods (now Cains and in Ayer not Cambridge). We made and packaged salad dressings, mayo, pickles and horseradish. The famous chips magically happened elsewhere.

Among our short runs on the assembly line were gallons of salad dressings, ketchup and mayonnaise for restaurants. Sure, they carried the Cain’s label like the grocery quarts, but they were different. The old hands (all deaf from the clinking of bottles on the line) said the stuff the chefs got was simply better. The production shifted to condiments that used better materials, richer oils and more fully flavored ingredients. Your perception that the tabletop stuff when you ate out was better was accurate.

One effect of the women’s service mag tyranny was that most of us boomers had little idea what vegetables on their own tasted like. To this day, many of us suffocate salads.If a teaspoon of dressing is good, a quarter cup must be much better. You know…getting your money’s worth…

To no effort of my own, I had the benefit of summering with my maternal grandfather, who grew phenomenal amounts and varieties of vegetables. He  neither accepted nor permitted overpowering his veggies with fats and sugars. If we had asparagus, he’d go down his 150-foot rows with his stainless-steel knife and cut just enough for dinner. We’d eat them minutes later, maybe with a bit of lemon, a dusting of butter and a little salt.

Yet, at friends’ and relatives’, we’d be in the over-consumption mode.  The four bottles of clot-thick bottled dressings fairly screamed to swamp the salad makings. Kids as well as adults lathered it over and on.

In contrast, tossing a salad with say a little white-wine vinegar and a small squeeze of Dijon mustard or perhaps a splash of balsamic with a small portion of olive oil or maybe a scant teaspoon of mayo with some black pepper is all you need…and much, much better tasting. In fact, lightly dressed salads actually let you taste the ingredients, including remarkably enough the veggies.

We don’t have to praise the WWII generation. Lord knows, they’ve done plenty of self-mythology themselves. What the boomers and their kids are learning though is that we don’t have to replicate their food silliness. Too much is not better. It’s just too much.

 

Boston Timeout

April 19th, 2013

Cops, the Gov., our mayor and such are using terms like “self-shelter” or “shelter in place.” They’ve locked down this city and others in area, notably Cambridge where the Boston Marathon bombers lived and Watertown where one died in a shootout with police and the other may still be hiding (or dead).

Closed are all mass transit, stores, public schools, private and public colleges, government offices…virtually everything except Dunkin’ Donuts (not kidding). I first became aware of the reach of this security reaction at a few minutes after 8 this morning. The lifeguard whistled me out of the pool, not for roughhousing, rather because the whole Y was shut down per the mayor’s orders.

fencewebbyOn one hand, this is sensible. A single fugitive mass murder is somewhere out here, likely still in the Boston area. He may have and may even be wearing explosive devices, may have hand guns, may be wanting to take out more police or civilians at his own end.

Our advice that is couched as order includes not to open our locked doors to anyone who is not a uniformed, identified law-enforcement agent. We are to stay indoors. That edict covers the 600,00-plus Bostonians and a total of maybe 2 million in the area.

I’ve read and heard much bluster since Monday’s bombings. There’s a pol writing on FB that he’d strangle this guy with his bare hands. In North Station, a Guardsman with military weapons called to a train cop that he hopes they haven’t caught him yet, that he wants to get him personally. In the men’s locker room this morning, a massive early middle-aged guy said locking down Boston was silly and unnecessary, that if the bad guy saw him, he’d be shaking and give up. Yadda yadda.

On another hand, in my decades, I’ve been through various crises here and in other communities. This likely short-lived one differs from all others in that there is no chance for real community.

After 9/11, we here knew too certainly that the ambient hum of commercial planes high overhead was replaced with the unmistakable guttural grumble of fighter jets. Instead of the frequent distant humming, we knew every half hour or so that a death machine was patrolling the Boston clouds, the very skies where two of the hijacker sets flew from Logan through on their hellish missions. Then we were in the streets, yards, offices, bars and elsewhere together. We wept together, were hopeful together, shared our fears and depression…together.

In less stressful times, in big blizzards here, we’d commiserate being without power for days. We’d pile into our streets together. We’d help each other shovel aside four or six feet of snow. We’d make snowmen, no whole snow families. We’d heap snow and ice into tall piles for our kids to slide down. Those whose stoves worked without electricity would cook. We’d share food and milk and wine. We were together.

Here today though, we are isolated. We watch TV and click the net with multiple tabs open. We look at locked front and back doors. We cancel plans. We, as that phrase would have it, self-shelter.

Monday, one of the few blessings following the horror was a combined defiance and sense of community. We weren’t going to be beaten down or cowed by terrorists.

Today, we find ourselves being safe and sensible…and very alone.